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You just never know what he'll review next!

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Burl reviews Stray! (2020)


Woof woof, it’s Burl, gone to the dogs! I’m here to review a pooch picture that tells the true-life tail of bowsers on the streets of Istanbul and the people who love them: a new documentary by the name of Stray!

The picture mainly follows two four-footers as they travel the streets and harbor areas of this polyglot city on the border of Europe and Asia! West and East are the warp and weft of this town, and even in its less glamourous quarters, where these dogs and their human pals mostly roam, this unique admixture is evident!

The starring hounds are named Zeytin and Nazar, both bitches of indeterminate breed! They roam the town looking for chow, stare balefully around at the tourists, poop on the grass, lounge on the roadway, fight over meatbones, eavesdrop on couples at outdoor cafes, and spend time with some glue-huffing street kids from Syria! There’s a group of construction site security guards who treat the dogs more kindly than they do the kids - the homeless immigrants are kicked out of their construction site squat, while the bowsers are given heaping bowls of tasty slops!

In Istanbul, it seems, it has lately become illegal to put down street dogs, and so the people there have a unique relationship with the canines who roam the city! In their turn, the doggies don’t seem to have become the ravening killers we see in movies like Dogs or The Pack or Wolfen, but do their best to go about the business of survival with the least possible amount of fuss!

The camera spends a lot of time cruising around at the dogs’ level (there’s a lot of dog anus in this picture, ha ha!), and one must admire director/camerawoman Elizabeth Lo, whose lower back must have needed great slatherings of Rub A5-35 after each day’s shoot! The footage she shot has been assembled into a film that never really coalesces into a story, but manages something rarer and more nuanced! It exudes a spell that’s very minor, and which doesn’t stay with you long after the movie is over, but is quite enchanting while it lasts, particularly for dog lovers!

The more sentimental dog lovers may find the picture unsatisfactory for a different reason, though! The movie avoids both anthropomorphizing and over-romanticizing its canine characters - they’re simply animals in the world, and while their big brown eyes give them a soulful look, they’re not particularly cute or clever! I myself think this was the right approach, and it should go without saying that the lack of narration was also the correct choice here!

The picture is spotted with quotations from Ancient Greek philosophers, mostly the dog-loving Diogenes, but frankly they don’t add much to it! It’s not a movie that will live for a tremendous long time in my memory or my heart, but I admire it for its moxie, its technical acumen, and its intelligence! I give Stray two government ear tags!


  1. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux25 May 2021 at 20:21

    Haha, I lived in Istanbul for 8 years, and let me tell you those dogs can be terrifying! All throughout the day, they lounge around in singles, maybe caging some food. Then late at night they form packs, barking and chasing whoever passes by. Once one bit my leg, but didn't break my skin. My buddies thought it was hilarious that I didn't know the local pooch who despised anyone wearing a hood! They have RFID tags on their ears and, AFAIK, really are put down if they bite somebody. They're also present in wealthier areas as we, and if anything more common there. Hot tip: if you travel to Istanbul, you can judge the quality of a neighborhood by the apparent health of the street cats. Wealth is a factor but a secularist/socialist neighborhood is actually the main guarantee! In general, I'd say Turks like animals a lot more than they like people!

    1. I had a feeling the dog-human relationship in Istanbul was not quite as peaceful as the movie makes it out to be! Maybe it's more like Wolfen after all! But I'm glad to hear the Turks like animals, at least! I've never been to Istanbul, but when I do go (and I plan to!), I will be keeping your cat tip in mind! The same, I think, applies to Granada, Spain, which is the only other city I can think of with such an extraordinary street cat presence that one can use them as a socioeconomic barometer! Thanks very much for your comment!

  2. With this and Gunda it seems the new vogue for nature docs is to follow domestic animals about blankly. It's interesting enough, but you have to really like dogs first.

    Fascinating to read a comment here from someone with experience of the dogs! It sounds like there's a degree of editorialising so we don't see anything that makes us fear the animals too much, though that cat attack comes close, I guess.

    1. I would like to see Gunda, just because it looks so beautiful! Though I'm not looking forward to scenes of Gunda rolling all over her piglets!